cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by concretecandy

The web is a fabric we weave and wear together or tear apart.

Posterous yesterday announced a new feature- the web they wove back in 2008? Thrown away in 2013.


To you read URLs? I bet they changed the title of the post from the first draft where “Thanks From Posterous” becomes “Posterous will turn off on April 30”.

And the reason why? It is explained very clwarly:

Posterous launched in 2008. Our mission was to make it easier to share photos and connect with your social networks. Since joining Twitter almost one year ago, we’ve been able to continue that journey, building features to help you discover and share what’s happening in the world ““ on an even larger scale.

On April 30th, we will turn off and our mobile apps in order to focus 100% of our efforts on Twitter. This means that as of April 30, Posterous Spaces will no longer be available either to view or to edit.

Here is a rough translation:

All you people who used our service for free years? Yeah we got big enough to be bought by twitter. So we dont need you and your posts any more. Flush. We got our money and we are doing other stuff. You can’t even have what you wrote. Well you can have this little download.

D’Arcy Norman takes this is the reason who need to roll and host your own web making spaces. And it is, and it isn’t. I await the smack down reply from Calgary, but I don’t think it’s a simple self hosted good / hosted elsewhere bad decision

And one could say that posterous is being “nice” by allowing people to move their stuff. Free is free. You get what you paid for. Etc.

But here is the thing. When you take things off of the public web, you break the web. You may think, “well it’s my stuff, and no one will notice or care if I just put it away in the bottom drawer.” But the strength and power of the web are its connections. When posterous says Thanks for All the Fish and shuts its servers off on April 30, it leaves a swatch of frayed web fabric.

Broken links.

How much?

If I did my search correctly, Posterous’s decision will break over four million links

4 million dea dlinks

This might not matter to you if you never used posterous or linked to it, and 4,000,000 links are probably insigificant considering there are an estimated more than 14 billion web pages out there.

It’s the principle. The web is an open space we share, and when you rip your threads out of the fabric, its not the size of the hole that matters- its the idea that holes are bad.

I’m maybe the last kid on the edtech block to be reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, but am underlining stuff like mad. In writing about The Slow Hunch, he highlights how the ideas typically told as tales of “Eureka” moments almost never truly happen that way. He writes of a small boy in the U.K. who has a fascination with a Victorian book of encyclopedic every day knowledge titled Enquire Within Upon Everything (ironic note- this book is available as a free hyperlinked web fabric from Project Gutenburg or you can buy it for $20 on Amazon.)

The boy “was drawn to the ‘suggestion of magic’ in the book’s title, and who spent hours exploring this ‘portal to the world of information.’ The title stuck in the back of his mind, along with that wondrous feeling of exploring an immense trove of data.”

Yes, of course the boy went on to make something rather useful:

The World Wide Web (known as “WWW’, “Web” or “W3”) is the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge… The Web has a body of software, and a set of protocols and conventions. Through the use hypertext and multimedia techniques, the web is easy for anyone to roam, browse, and contribute to.

It is easy until some entity decides it does not need that portions it contributed to.

Berners-Lee described the idea evolved from:

my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an uncomstrained, weblike way. And the awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process. The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of a human mind, a new concept jelled.

The web, much like the mind, is a terrible thing to put to waste.

I don’t know what posterous is doing inside the big twitter bird, nor any ideas how they are making “features to help you discover and share what’s happening in the world ““ on an even larger scale.”

But I cannot think of a plausible reason why they cannot leave the part of the web they created in-tact.

There is a principle here that seems to not matter much. But I always have and always will do everything I can never break a piece of the web I created previously, no matter how arcane or outdated it is. It’s not always possible, but as individuals we do out part, but I expect larger entities, ones that make their success on the web from the efforts as others, should do a lot more to keep the web from getting torn and frayed.

Will you join me in taking that as a solemn oath? DON’T BREAK THE WEB!

I call on Posterous to take a more proactive stand. They made success for themselves on the web; they should do more than a token effort to keep it from breaking.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ipasha

We need web makers, the web does need web breakers.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. So my take on this is that the individual deserves the right to make those choices, and that’s the problem with what Posterous and so many other services have done is they’ve removed that choice. You can grab your stuff now or be pushed out later, but it’s disappearing either way. But yes, it is a free service and given they were bought by Twitter a year ago and announced their export tools back in December there was plenty of writing on the wall.

    Honestly I think the whole idea of the permanence of URLs is certainly nice in theory, but the web needs to evolve in some fashion to prevent this. URLs no longer working because sites get shuttered or domains expire is a technology problem, not a user problem. If we can’t, in the 21st Century, decide to fix that I can’t expect users to migrate everything they have every couple years to new services and/or host everything themselves on sub-par equivalent homegrown services.

    I love for the work they do to keep remnants of this fabric available to view, but the solution is not just archival, it needs to be a change in the very structure of URLs and how they work so links are not tied to expiring services. And I’m not smart enough to figure out if that’s even possible or if I’m asking for a rocketship in my backyard that runs on sunshine.

    1. Of course people are free to remove stuff, that’s an individual choice. Is like people to be aware if the ramifications but more so that they are part of the fabric.

      I’d like more responsibility taken by providers like posterous to not kill parts of they web, if they can help it. Posterous has given no reason or rationale why they could not leave up content created in their site. Giving people an export is the most minimal amount if care.

      I was thinking along he same lines; can the web protocol be revised so when a domain is not found it offers a redirect to Internet archive. I too have no clue how this can be done.

      1. posterous has no obligation to keep paying to maintain their server farm online. no third party has any obligation to host content perpetually. the only person that can ensure your content is available on any reasonable time scale is yourself.

        if, say, wikipedia’s annual funding drive stopped raising enough cash to keep their servers online, they could decide to shutter wikipedia. it’s their right.

        same with – if at some point Automattic decides it can’t afford to maintain the servers, they will disappear.

        same with – brewster’s millions could run out, and the archive could get turned off.

        Same with godaddy, or bluehost, or dreamhost. or hippie hosting.

        unless you own your own content, and have your own backups, it will all disappear eventually.

        1. I’m not saying anyone has an obligation here.

          The internet is the greatest world-wide experiment in cooperation, all packets sent on their way without inspection or judgement, its routers run and supported not out of obligation, but the idea of connecting everything, not just those whom we have said obligations, is one that benefits everyone.

          I am not interested in a space where people operate by doing only what is obligated.

          What about doing what is a good thing? What about sometimes putting the good of others above our own? Am I naive and old fashioned to believe in this? Frankly I see a world of reclaim as one bleak place.

          If we are going to list all the things that *might* happen, the server farm where your reclaimed stuff lies could be flooded and a meteorite could land on your house (I hope when no one is there) and destroy your backups. Hippie Hosting could go up in smoke, and you would rebuild from your backups, how is that any different from going up in smoke too, and I replace it from my backups? I don’t see that WHERE stuff sits as being all that important.

          It’s not about the content, its about operating in a space of mutual cooperation.

          I totally respect your choice to reclaim your content; I dont really like it for the broken photo links on my blog. I miss the ability to see your flickr photos in my contacts. Yes, you share your stuff freely, but its not easy to access, it’s not in a shared space.

          I respect the idea, but I also reject it for myself. I see it fraught with contradictions.

          I reclaim the openness, trust, and cooperation of the internet. That’s more important than files. In my book.

          1. If we are only talking about the moment, then yeah. But over any time scale longer than a few months, all this stuff is just files. And if this online stuff has any cultural significance at all, it’s important that it all isn’t just ephemeral fluff that will degrade for any of a long list of possible reasons.

            And, yes, my own stuff could disappear if Hippie Hosting melts down. And my backups could get vaporized by meteors. But I’ve also removed several potential factors that are outside of my ability to do anything about. I want the option for my stuff to exist in some form 10 years from now. And 20. And 50. Or not. But that will be my choice, not some kid who sells a startup to a company that decides to kill a server.

  2. I think the whole point of the “reclaim” stuff is that your work is linked to your domain. It doesn’t prevent you from still interacting in social spaces like Flickr (all images I post from Twitter get pushed to Flickr but ultimately what’s on my blog is a local copy, not an embed). But the choice to embed images from an external service on your site is one that practically guarantee’s that one day all those images will disappear from your blog, and that won’t be a choice you have any control over. Whether it’s right or wrong won’t matter if/when Yahoo goes belly up and can’t or won’t keep Flickr up any longer. If we care about the permanence of URLs the only ones we can guarantee right now with any certainty are the ones we own so I will always default to publishing my content in those spaces first before pushing out to any external services. If Hippie Hosting fails I will still have my domain and a backup of my content. That means my URLs don’t break, worst case scenario I’m down for a weekend or less. No other service, paid or free, will offer me that same level of comfort (unless I can map a domain on top of that service and export/run a local copy of their software like

    1. I can appreciate that strategy, that’s a bit different from taking down stuff that existed publicly.

      I did not intend to write about reclaim, I want people to appreciate the web as a place they make so that factors in to a decision the break it.

      I don’t have illusions that web urls will last forever but I will do everything I can to keep mine intact. I have a few that are coming up on 20 years old and we ought to celebrate that as a durability of the web as much as worry about its impermanence. I do not have much other digital technology I can use from that far back. That’s why I’m fixated on the care of the web and decry Posterous’s wanton destruction.

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